Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@dmjones1009) likely noticed that I was away from my usual East Tennessee environs last week, visiting my old haunts in Southern California. While I’m not going to do a “travelogue” post, per se, I figured I’d share a few thoughts about the trip while enjoying a cigar and whiskey pairing made of products I found while on the trip.
Today I’m smoking a cigar that I’ve heard plenty about over the last six months or so when Keith told me about spending some time with Jose Blanco and getting to try a new cigar that Jose was working on. The Cuenca y Blanco is the first product from Joya de Nicaragua since they hired Jose Blanco. I’ve heard nothing but great reviews from bloggers, shop managers and individual smokers alike, so I was highly anticipating this smoke. I picked up two each of Corona Real and Lonsdale Club at Tobacco Barn in Lake Forest and have smoked one of each before this...they are THAT good, I am happy to report.
Buck is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, aged a minimum of eight years and measuring in at 90 proof. It is listed as a “small batch” and the bottle I got curiously has the labels off-center...but it was the last bottle that Total Wine had on sale for $19.99, so who’s complaining? I brought it back home in my checked bag. If you need to bring something home on a plane flight, you will need to do so as you cannot get the liquid past TSA. If the bottle comes in a box of some type, keep the box. This did not, so I utilized my boots (hiking boot size): one end of the bottle in one boot, the other end in the other...then pack all kinds of clothes around both boots and bottle. The key is padding.
I do some freelance work still for some folks I’ve been working with for about 15 years. One of those jobs is a once-a-year thing that requires me to be in a certain location for a few hours one day. I usually fly out on a Saturday and fly back home on a Tuesday, but I decided to take a longer trip this time and catch up with some friends I haven’t seen for a while. Besides all that...they have In-N-Out Burger:
|Animal Style lunch at In-N-Out|
The Cuenca y Blanco starts out with a medium-bodied earthiness with touches of leather and a faint molasses sweetness. The prelight draw actually made it seem like it might be sweeter than it turns out to be. As I kept puffing, I got a distinct cedar flavor and a little bit of orange rind. The Buck Bourbon had a strongly vanilla nose, but was toasty and sweet on the palate. It was different than many bourbons in that it was more about molasses and nuttiness rather than vanilla and oak. Very interesting.
It was great to hang out with newer and long-term members of the Tiki Bar herfing group. We met twice at Keith’s house (@Keith1911) for smoking purposes. Thank you, again, Keith for your hospitality in letting everyone over. Since I left California, Keith’s house has been the primary meeting place for the group.
We also met once at Taps Fishhouse and Brewery in Brea...probably could be considering the “secondary meeting place.” It was great to see Vern (@verncole), Ray, Thomas, Danny (@dannysguitar), Travis (@travis_lindsay), and Dale (@eatdrinkpuff) again. And it was especially good to see my friend, Paul, and his new lady friend when they dropped by, and to get to make the acquaintance of yet another BOTL, Shawn...a co-worker of Vern’s.
Hey, by the way...@dannysguitar is getting married in less than two weeks, so make sure to wish him and his bride well.
The Buck’s Bourbon has a nice spicy finish...I’m guessing there must be a good percentage of rye in the mash bill. It is noted in advertising to be “smooth” but I haven’t noticed it to be too smooth...and to me, that’s a good thing: it has enough spice and bite to keep it interesting. The Cuenca y Blanco started picking up in the sweetness area during the first third; the retrohale had a note of roasted nuts.
It was well past time to make a visit to my cousins that I’ve known all my life. They are substantially older than me...and older than my parents, for that matter...so they’ve been almost like grandparents to me my whole life. They have always been active and sharp of mind, but as they near the century mark, it seems like they are slipping away. It was heartbreaking to see, but I know that God’s rewards for them must be great. 72 years (I think) married, 5 children, 25 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren. In some ways, those numbers speak for themselves.
It was good to catch up with friends that I’ve not seen in far too long. Dan lived with me when I started smoking cigars; at the time, he thought, “Well...what’s this all about?” Needless to say he was surprised to hear about this blog and about all that goes into the growing of tobacco and blending of cigars. Well..not “all”...there wasn’t enough time at one dinner to go into that kind of detail, but he did say he had learned more than he ever really expected about cigar while I was there...perhaps more than he really wanted. It was great to see him and his wife again...and fantastic to finally get introduced to their daughter, who they adopted from China several years back. I’ll have to do what I can to make sure it isn’t so long before I see them all again.
One thing that hasn’t changed in California, even with the economic downturn, is the level of traffic. While I successfully avoided rush-hour traffic for the most part, the sheer number of people on the road at any one time is just ridiculous. I do not miss that.
Car-culture is still in full effect in California, too...as is the need to try to impress people with your ride. I’ve seen a couple Porsche Panameras around Chattanooga and Knoxville in the past year...last Sunday as I drove around Palos Verdes and Torrance, I saw 3. And I saw several more during the rest of my visit. If I had the money, would I buy one? Probably not...I’d still take something half the price (or less), that’s just about as nice inside, then take the rest of the money and save for whatever unforeseen disaster might lurk around the corner...well, and spend some on cigars, too...gotta have priorities.
I did get a chance to try to note-worthy sticks while I was in California. Nothing “super-exclusive” or “wildly rare” but some that haven’t shown up at local shops yet.
|Pretty sure the little stickers shown were just suggestions...|
The L’Atelier flagship brand is truly something special. On the first couple puffs, I was saying, “Wow!” It had a great flavor and a very decent price tag. I bought extras and a full review will post relatively soon.
The Surrogates Crystal Baller (also by L’Atelier) was very good as a more medium-bodied smoke. Not a flavor powerhouse, as I recall, but definitely not bad and definitely something I’ll try again.
Quesada Oktoberfest: I first got the 60 ring gauge and thought it was pretty decent for a large ring gauge cigar...but also found myself wishing it was smaller so the flavors wouldn’t be muted. As luck would have it, I did find one of those later in the week...review to follow.
Viaje Honey & Hand Grenades: I resisted buying this because I’m kinda done buying into the Viaje hype-machine of limited-release, mostly overpriced sticks. But so many people had good things to say, that I finally sprang for the cash. Not bad...still a bit pricey, but not bad at all. If they can keep up the quality-for-price quotient on subsequent releases of this (and other products) I might start buying more.
I finally got a chance to try the Four Kicks Robusto Extra. I found it to be another very good cigar, but it didn’t measure up to the Robusto or Selección Number 5 for my palate.
Although I got an AKA Solace at the Chattanooga Tweet-Up, I still haven’t fired that one up...but I did get a chance to try it at Maxamar last Saturday. Very interesting entry into the Connecticut Shade category; I’m still planning on expanding on it during a full review.
Speaking of Maxamar, I spotted something there that surprised me: Bahia Gold. I’ve heard many people talk about these and how great they were “back in the day.” Tony Borhani is making them again, but apparently could not get quite the same blend. I would have to say the one I had was...good. I would give it another chance, but at this point it didn’t make me want to run back into the humidor to buy a box.
One that I would want to buy a box of, though, is the Oliva V Melanio. I smoked a Robusto and was blown away...fantastic flavor and decent amount of power, too. I bought a couple Churchills for later...review to follow. I will say this: they are already hard to find and a box would be too much money for me to consider at this point. But they do seem to be worth it for a stick here and there.
Finally, Diablo was an unexpected find. This General Cigar product was only made for a year or two and has been gone for 5 to 6 years. Legend has it that the workers were freaked out (superstitiously) about the name, so they dropped it. Skip Martin (of @RoMaCraft) had nice things to say about these so I decided to buy a couple when I ran across them. The first one I had was good...but far from great. I wonder if these just didn’t age all that well. I expected it to be spicy and it really wasn’t, so I suspect that excessive age could be part of the problem.
There are a few more I picked up while out there and just haven’t gotten around to smoking yet...reviews to follow. :)
As I wrote, I smoked...I drank...and I enjoyed both Cuenca y Blanco and Buck Bourbon. They each had a unique flavor in their “peer groups” and complemented each other with sweetness and spice very nicely. Stop me if you’ve heard this before...full reviews will follow at a later date.
|Cove in Laguna Beach|
When I lived there, Orange County seemed to have a dearth of really good cigar shops. That is no longer the case.
Maxamar Ultimate Cigar in Orange (a sponsor of this blog), is still my favorite shop to visit, not least of all because the prices and selection is just about impossible to beat. Stop in and say “Hi” to Amar (the owner) and ask Ben for an extra HumidiPak when you buy something.
Islands Cigar Lounge in Brea is a nice place to watch the replacement refs totally screw up football. Their selection is good and prices are decent; the two lounges have plenty of comfortable chairs and the front lounge has a giant-screen TV.
If you’re looking for high-end cigars, it’s hard to find a better selection than Embassy Cigars (also in Brea). They have Viaje, Opus X and God of Fire, just to name a few, plus a nice members’ lounge.
If you’re headed to south county, Tobacco Barn in Lake Forest is the place to go. Their members’ lounge has annual, monthly and daily pricing, the selection is great and the prices are fantastic. They are the only place I saw the Cuenca y Blanco while I was there and they are the only shop to cater directly to pipe smokers. They’ve been there a while, but I never knew about them while I lived there...which is my loss.
|Newport Back Bay|
Overall, the trip to California proved to be productive (work), profitable (collecting some outstanding debt), relaxing (sleeping in), and lots of fun (seeing friends and family). If I missed you this time around (I’m talking to you @cigarsthomas1!), I’ll likely be around next year.